Frank Kuppner - A Concussed History of Scotland (1990)
- Dave Martin
- 1 January 2005
100 Best Scottish Books of all Time
The kind of exercise in post-modernity that makes traditionalists drop their monocles in disbelief at the self-indulgence of it all, A Concussed History of Scotland earned Kuppner huge critical acclaim but, perhaps understandably, didn’t trouble any bestseller lists. Splitting the fragmented ramblings of an unidentified consciousness into 500 chapters, a maelstrom of name and place, date and time that would have James Joyce blushing at its obtuseness, this novel loves to play with readers’ expectations, poking and prodding them into action with a big metaphysical stick.
That it straddles the line between surrealism and the avant garde without ever leaving the reader too detached reveals Kuppner to be an extremely funny writer, although he often hides it well under a blizzard of abrasive aphorisms and sceptical insight underpinned by a vicious intellect which drove him to ask if Scotland is ‘small enough’. And all this in a book that could probably be enjoyed by rolling a dice to decide which chapter to read next without any discernible loss in sense, yet criticised by some as too articulate or for its lack of orientating centre or ‘key’ to a greater universal truth.
Not particularly Scottish in outlook or language, but still unmistakably of this nation in its preoccupations, Kuppner’s career has seen him mining a vein of Scottish fiction vastly different from the bestsellers of Kennedy, Rankin or Welsh. For while he has been compared most often to Alasdair Gray, his work actually stands closest to the Pulitzer-winning prose-poet Charles Simic, whose Yugoslav-American compositions revolve around the impossibility of meaning and empathy and the lack found in all language.
A great Scottish writer then, because he doesn’t limit himself to the country’s literary tradition, instead demonstrating an intimidating verbal dexterity which draws also on European and Asian influences, Kuppner is this nation’s one-man new wave.
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